Continuing the series of pitting World Cup contestants against each other on the tourism field, today we’re mirroring the upcoming match of Ghana, in western Africa with Germany, in central Europe.
Representing Ghana is my friend David Owusu-Ansah. He is originally from Ghana but has been teaching at my alma mater of James Madison University in Virginia for many years. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Ghana and has also conducted his university’s studies abroad in Ghana since 1996.
For Germany we have one of my favorite travel authors, Rory MacLean. Born in Canada and resident for many years in Britain, he now lives in Berlin where he’s writing his new book on the city, as well as the multi-hit weekly Rory’s Berlin blog for the Goethe Institute. Let’s kick it off!
Why should I visit Ghana…or Germany?
David for Ghana – It is the only country located closest to the center of the globe, zero degree longitude and close to zero degree latitude. Besides, the people of Ghana are very hospitable and the country, even during the worst times of its political crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, was a safe place to travel. Today, Ghana is a peaceful parliamentary democracy that is making serious efforts to expand its private sector economy.
For the majority of travelers to Ghana, the more attractive locations are in the southern half of the country. Several former slave castles dot the coast of the country of which Dutch Elmina and the British Cape Coast castles are World Heritage sites and are heavily visited by local students and foreign travelers. The Danish Christiansborg Castle in Accra is the current seat of government and the Dutch castles at Axim and Discove in the Western Region of the country are used for local government buildings.
Elmina, Cape Coast, Winneba, and Accra have attractive beaches. If you are interested in nature, try the Aburi Botanical Garden some 45 km outside Accra. Other locations that are accessible for you to explore nature include the Kakum National Park outside Cape Coast. The majority of visitors are attracted by the canopy walk. Kumasi is the second largest city in Ghana and the capital of the Ashanti Region. It was the center of the historic Asante Empire and some of the several artisan villages that served the King of Asante are now important tourist centers. Even though one can comfortably buy the colorful Kente cloth at any Accra or Kumasi market, the village of Bonwire (just outside Kumasi) is the original home of the craft of weaving the Kente and it is therefore worth visiting. These are also several wood carving villages outside Kumasi.
Rory for Germany – Germany is the most underrated travel destination in Europe. It has mountains, lakes, endless cycle paths and the second-best beer in the world (England may not have been able to beat Germany in football since 1966 but a British pint remains superior to a German brew).
But greater than all that, Germany has Berlin, the world city which has transformed itself from dark heart of the 20th century to exemplary creative capital for the new age.
What can I do there for free or cheap?
Ghana – For a small fee (not more than $3.00) to spend time at the Labardi or Teshi beach in Accra will be more attractive to me than the free shores of the fishing villages along the coast. The reason is that our fishermen are good swimmers and they can handle the unmarked rough beaches. For a small fee, you can also visit the botanical garden at Aburi, the museums, and the Heritage Slave castles. Kakum National Park has recently announced increases in the entry fee, but other than the transport fare the tours of the Wli Water Falls as well as the Tafo Atome monkey sanctuary in the Volta Region or the Bobire Butterfly Forest in the Ashanti Region he Volta Region are reasonable priced. Of course, you can visit all the city markets and the craft villages for free.
Germany – In Berlin you can ride to the top of the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament, and walk up the spiral ramp in Norman Foster’s glistening glass dome for the best 360-degree panorama of the city. Then catch any of the dozens of free concerts and street festivals celebrating everything from horticulture (Internationale Grüne Woche) to Gay Pride.
Last month Daniel Barenboim conducted Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony for thousands of music lovers on an outdoor stage on Unter den Linden. In downtown Munich — which is more than 400 miles from the sea — you can join the surf-bums and catch a wave on the Eisbach, a spurting waterway under weeping willows in the elegant English Garden.
What can I get for lunch for $10, or better yet, $6 or less?
Ghana – Food is the cheapest expense in Ghana for travelers. For just about $1.00 (or 1.5 Ghana Cedis), you can enjoy summer corn that is cooked by roadside vendors. I like the corn with peanuts (roasted groundnuts) and don’t forget your bottled or purified water!
Roasted plantain or yam with groundnuts is also very good for the person on the move. You can have a sit-down lunch at any of the fast food canteens that dot the major cities for less than $10.00. Rice and chicken or fish or hot soup with rice is standard meals for travelers. Fish stew and rice or yams provide a decent break, but if you still want to eat what you are already familiar with, you can order pizza and spaghetti on request at the canteens.
Fruits are cheap-wash the mangoes, but the bananas, pineapples, pawpaw, and sugarcane are ready to eat once peeled and you can easily buy them from roadside vendors, especially between Accra and Cape Coast.
Germany – Lunch is the best time of day to pack in the protein, from a financial perspective. Any number of Italian, Bavarian, Vietnamese, Thai and French eateries offer filling, daily specials for under $10 ( €8). A bratwurst—or in Berlin a spicy currywurst—eaten at a street stall will set you back about $2.50. But the best eating experience by far is Sunday brunch which has been refined by Germans into one of the world’s most diverse and social meals: croissants and conversation, cereals, eggs, salmon, sausage and contentment are washed down with liters of strong coffee and hot chocolate for two or three hours—and all for about $10 (€8) per person.
What are the best bets for finding cheap places to sleep?
Germany – German hostels—whether in the center of Hamburg or high in the Alps—are of an exceptionally high standard and charge as little as €30 ($36) a night. For families, charismatic Pensions or Hotel-Pensions, usually privately-owned and occupying one or two floors in historic apartment buildings, provide a more private and atmospheric alternative, with prices starting at around €60 ($72) single.
Ghana – For very safe but reasonable hostel accommodation in Accra, try the Pink Hostel. The rates start at about $30 per night and the international students who have spent time here recommend it highly. This might be the safest way to start your visit as you take your time to explore other housing options. For the majority of hotels in Accra, the going rate ranges between $50 and $65 per night. It will not be difficult to find these, including the Holiday Hotel at the airport residential area.
For a reasonable priced hotel accommodation when in Kumasi, I will recommend that you stay outside the city limits. There are several small hotels at Ejusu (just about 8 km on the Accra-Kumasi road and just outside the city of Kumasi.) For about $15 per night, I will recommend JosMay or the Davellen hotels. Several other hotels at Ejusu and the immediate outskirts of Kumasi are available at $50.00 per night rates. For a nightly rate of about $60, you can also select the centrally located Sambra Hotel within the city limits of Kumasi. This gives you an idea of the general range.
Dr. David Owusu-Ansah, originally from Ghana, is Professor of African Studies at James Madison University in Virginia and is author of the Historical Dictionary of Ghana, now in its third edition. He serves as the Special Assistant to the President of JMU on Faculty Diversity. Owusu-Ansah holds a doctoral degree from Northwestern University; a masters degree in Islamic Studies from McGill University, and an honors bachelor degree in Comparative Religions from the University of Cape Coast (Ghana). He is a former fellow of the Harry S. Truman Institute for International Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Rory MacLean’s seven books, including UK best-sellers Stalin’s Nose and Under the Dragon, have challenged and invigorated travel writing, and according to the late John Fowles are among works that “marvellously explain why literature still lives.” He now lives in Berlin. (See one of his Perceptive Travel stories here: Sun-bathing with Ghosts in Cassadaga.)
For info on that real football thingy going on right now, see the World Cup Blog.